Tuesday, 28 September 2010
Thursday, 23 September 2010
The recent spike in Mexico's drug related violence has included a bomb detonated at a bar in the tourist region of Cancún which killed eight people and on 20 September, the deactivation of a car bomb suspected to have been planted by Cartel members at a shopping mall in Leon.
Although other recent attacks have been more violent and resulted in greater casualty numbers, the aforementioned two events are significant because they represent one of the only Cartel - initiated attacks on Mexico's most popular tourist region, which has remained largely free of drug related violence, and the first time that they have targeted the general population with an explosive device. Most frequently in the past, the Cartels have principally targeted those associated with their business activities in some way - rival Cartel members, corrupt politicians, police officers, counter-narcotic officials and journalists reporting their activities.
Although the motives for the Cancún bombing are unclear and an official claim of responsibility for the mall bomb has not yet been made, the events represent a potentially important and worrying shift in tactics by the Cartels. Particular attention should be given to these recent highlighted incidents in the context the forthcoming United Nations (UN) Climate Change Conference in Cancún scheduled for November/December 2010. Thus far there are no plans to cancel the event, despite the upsurge in violence around the country.
While security around the UN conference will be extremely tight, the event will doubtless provide a global stage on which the Cartels can demonstrate just how powerful they have become. Although we feel that a Cartel-led attack on the conference or its delegates is still relatively unlikely, we do advise that security operatives, managers and event officials pay particular attention to the elevated risk of kidnapping, perhaps the most obvious means by which the Cartels might target, and benefit from, the event. As well as the normal pre-event assessments, this should include detailed threat assessments and analysis of the following:
- The modus operandi, tactics, weapons and numbers of assailants involved in previous Cartel-led kidnappings
- Well researched route planning to and from the conference including pick-up/drop-off point procedures, daily route variation, convoy standard operating procedures, emergency rendezvous points etc.
- The security of the delegates both at the event itself and at their accommodation
- The preparation of thorough emergency response procedures in the event of an attack
- Where appropriate and warranted, consideration should also be given to the purchase of personal or corporate kidnap and ransom insurance
The Cartels have a history of kidnapping and killing journalists, as well as posting gory videos of their killings on YouTube in order to influence their perception around the world. With that in mind, despite our assessment that an attack is somewhat unlikely, the high-profile UN conference means that stakes in this instance are extremely high. As such the government should certainly acknowledge that the UN conference will provide a significant global audience for the Cartels to demonstrate just how powerful they have become and how powerless and ineffective Mexico’s government is in controlling them.
The security situation both in Cancún and surrounding areas is changing constantly and should be closely monitored in the run-up to the conference.
Tuesday, 21 September 2010
Thursday, 16 September 2010
A car bomb planted outside a prison in Guatemala City on 13 September and the shooting of two policemen at a shopping centre two days later has raised further concerns over gang violence and the burgeoning drug trade in Guatemala.
A recent Pentagon report suggested the country was at risk of becoming the next ‘narco-state’, and the country’s position between drug producers in South America and trafficking routes through Mexico and the US have long made it an ideal through-channel for the lucrative trade. The government has long had trouble securing relatively porous borders, making it easy for smugglers and contraband to enter the country.
Dense vegetation and a rugged landscape have also contributed to a homegrown drug industry; in recent years, poppy fields have increased significantly.
As in neighbouring Mexico, low public-sector pay and high poverty rates have made the drug trade and gangs an attractive proposition for many police, soldiers and civilians. The situation is compounded by corruption and collusion at the highest levels of state and local government. In 2010, the national drug tsar and chief of national police were arrested for stealing narcotics from Maras, likely on behalf of a rival gang.
Ironically, success in the war on drug cartels north of the border may increase the influence and spread of the criminal trade within Guatemala. As Mexico’s drug lords and main cartels – which already have local offshoots operating abroad – come under increased pressure in their native redoubts (as with the arrest of two high-profile leaders of the Beltran Leyva cartel in recent months) they may move more of their business operations across the border, complicating Guatemala’s own struggle.
Tuesday, 14 September 2010
Colombia: Analytical Briefing 14 September 2010: Spike in violence prompts fears of resurgent rebel and paramilitary groups
The last month of increased violence has raised concerns that Colombia may be facing a new wave of insurgency at both ends of the political spectrum. The apparent resurgence of left-wing insurgent groups since the inauguration of new President Juan Manuel Santos has been well documented; since 7 August, attacks attributed to left wing groups, specifically the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN) and the Ejército Popular de Liberación (EPL), have resulted in at least 22 fatalities and 66 injuries. Targets have included a radio station, police convoys and the offices of the national intelligence agency.
Some have speculated that FARC and ELN have formed an informal alliance to destabilise the Santos administration. However less attention is paid to their right-wing paramilitary rivals, who continue to operate in as many as 29 out of 32 provinces. With the resurgence of violence among left-wing groups, right-wing paramilitaries will be keen to reassert their influence and even dominance over areas and trading routes they control. Despite the criminalisation and subsequent demobilisation of the United Self Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC) paramilitaries in 2006, elements within the government remained in collusion with right-wing groups. Some sources suggest that it has continued to covertly support them despite claims of human rights violations and the public investigation of 25% of Congress for having suspected paramilitary ties.
As leftist insurgents such as FARC become more aggressive, both groups will be intent to increase their share of the drugs trade in order to raise capital. Meanwhile three suspected members of the paramilitary group Black Eagles were arrested along with a weapons cache in Venezuela on 13 September. Based on the paramilitary groups’ history of protecting land and supply channels, and the fact that they continue to operate throughout Colombia with an apparent intent and capability to carry out violent attacks, there is an increased likelihood that a three-way war between the government and rival insurgent groups may reignite. Although violence on the scale of the 1990s at this point remains unlikely, the situation should be closely monitored as should the response of the Santos government.
Friday, 10 September 2010
Three landmines have exploded killing two soldiers and injuring another in Los Milagros, Norte de Santander region on Thursday 2 September 2010.
Local sources reported that the mines were planted by the Ejército Popular de Liberación (EPL), a relatively small rebel insurgent group known to have ties with larger organisations such as Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) and the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN).
The EPL, whose title means Popular Liberation Army, was established in 1967. Its strategy was to promote socialist revolution from a rural base in the countryside in order to launch a future offensive against urban locations. It was heavily involved in both sabotage and insurgent activity however many of its members laid down their arms in the early 1990s in order to participate in the political process, leaving just a small dissident faction that continued to fight in northern Colombia.
Analysis and Projection
Aside from its immediate casualties, Thursday’s event is important because the EPL’s apparent resurgence comes less than one month after the swearing in of Colombia’s new President, Juan Manuel Santos. Santos’ predecessor, Uribe, waged a successful campaign against Colombia’s largest rebel insurgent group FARC throughout his reign, driving them out of some of Colombia’s key urban and strategic locations. However FARC’s membership is still extremely large, some report as many as 10,000, even though its activities in terms of attacks, kidnappings and sabotage have diminished.
Specific consideration must now be given to the timing of the apparent EPL resurgence. Last week’s attacks, following such a long period of inactivity, could indicate that they have joined forces with FARC and the ELN in an attempt to capitalise on the political handover between Uribe and Santos. Santos has vowed to continue his predecessor’s counter-insurgency operations and has specifically stated that he will not enter into dialogue with insurgent groups until they have laid down their arms and renounced all violent activity. This latest attack by a group which has for so long been dormant could be a sign of an imminent increase in violent insurgency rather than a continued secession. Any increase in insurgent activity could also put increased strain on the already difficult relationship between Colombia and its leftist neighbour Venezuela, which has in the past been accused of lending support to groups such as FARC and EPL.